Thursday, December 23, 2010

More notes from meeting 11-30-10 - system details & focus group ideas

This is a continuation of my sketchy notes from our mini-meeting at Zuni on November 30, 2010. We spent much of the afternoon in a discussion about sharing protocols and other details of the Zuni local system, and the protocols that will drive the links between the different local systems. Lastly, we had a discussion of the focus groups for evaluating the system.

We brainstormed about user profiles, and the kinds of information that might work to identify different users and drive the protocols of access. After coming up with a lengthy list, it seemed like a pretty invasive & complex amount of information to gather from users -- might discourage people from signing up.

- Probably only 1-2% of objects need that level of careful restriction
-- just mark it 'unavailable without assistance'
--- can only access it at AAMHC with help
-- for right now, just set sensitive things aside

we can run a permission set out of FileMaker
another idea - restricting access to local IP addresses

- Robin also emphasized that we need a word that doesn't subjugate the new stuff to the existing catalog
- we discussed different kinds of updates that might emerge, and whether we should distinguish between different updates.
Categories we brainstormed: (which could also emerge from the actual work)
- correctives / corrections
- events
- new / additional information
- research
- relations / genealogies
- disputes / discussions

- idea - part of the system evaluation could be from the self-ID of additions - does a pattern emerge?

- impact could be just access, or it could be making flexible systems, or user-generated content

- how do we roll out the system?
-- events in the community
-- getting adults on board
-- permanent kiosks at IHS, etc

Photos / videos / audio - what if young people don't know the protocols about taking photos or video?

Focus groups - guiding questions
themes of what we're interested in
- experience of the system
- access to patrimony
- community dialogue

question ideas (for anonymous q's in system)
How easy is this system to use? (answered on a scale of easy to hard)
Tell us about it...
How much do you feel you've learned from the system?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Notes from meeting at Zuni 11-30-10

What follows are my sketchy notes from our mini-meeting at Zuni on Nov. 30th, with Ramesh, Robin, Daf Harries, Jim, Octavious, Curtis and myself. We also had a couple of guests as well - Cynthia Chavez-Lamar from the School of Advanced Research in Santa Fe, and Miranda Velarde-Lewis, a Zuni grad student in museum studies at UW.

- Ramesh noted that as far as how he sees it, it's really important for us to look at how the system inspires a social motivation for contributing media & mashups -- what can we put in place to make sure that happens?
- a lot is happening in terms of collaborative catalogs with unofficial partners (like School of Advanced Research) -- not necessarily online
-- for example, at SAR, the whole staff is really engaged - coming back to check and proofread what was added to the catalog.
- Jim recently spoke at AAA (Am. Anthro. Association meetings) - he says that he raised a lot of eyebrows when he said "we are the source community for your museums, so you are satellite of our museums - extensions of our community"
- Cynthia told a story about two aprons in different collections (one from the Zuni Day School collection, the other from DAM) - wouldn't it be nice to point one to another
- Jim said that when we say it's about power, we want the system to mirror the way knowledge is organized within the community
-- we might be taking risks, but if we don't do it, someone else will (and they might make stuff up, or be wrong)
- not just 'setting the record straight' but having a continued, ongoing sovereignty over the collection - governance
-- Zuni decide what gets shared back, what goes back
-- under your name, under your control
- The question was raised - How do we deal with technocracy? -- don't create one
-- setting it up so we don't have to say 'you can only work with us if you have this kind of system'
-- doesn't require local systems to do anything a particular way
--- museums have different needs & audiences
-- our goal is just the in-between links
- Most of what exists elsewhere are portals
-- when source community information comes in, it's placed subordinate to core museum info and how it is classified
- How they incorporate information coming back is up to the museum, its culture, etc.
-- we would hope they change it at a deep level
- Reciprocal Research Network - it's perceived as inclusive, but really they are placing shared info on the side
- no protocols, no sense of what's appropriate or not
- the museum is always the editorial filter - we say that's not their place to decide what voice comes through
- don't create a system that's so rigid that there's no room for innovation & creativity
-- local uses - re-empowerment

Moving on to the technical side of things -- there are two parts
1) each endpoint is being treated as a 'local system' - governed locally
-- the Zuni prototype exists - the FileMaker Pro DB
2) open-source sharing system - local controls and formats stay local

- the key insight here - any institution sharing information is publishing a database of its own info
-- not necessarily the same thing as the whole catalog - some bits are left out
- CouchDB is a mechanism by which you can synchronize two published databases

[ two slides from Daf's presentation that describes how the CouchDB system will be used to link all our local systems]

- using CouchDB is better than what we were thinking previously (pubsubhubbub) -- in that, all kinds of formatting and coordination would be required -- data going into a central hub
-- the other problem - requires a hub somewhere external, outside of the control of local systems
* what we build is going to be the piece in between (say) FileMaker and CouchDB *
- we're using CouchDB (which exists already) and building the in-between bit
-- key thing - your CouchDB database is still inside of your control

- idea to build in indicators to send flags about updated records - fixing mistakes or making changes
ex: user might check a box saying "Notify museum about this change - they should know about this"

* indicator to be added - indicating similar or related objects at other partner museums
- Open question: how the partner museums are going to subscribe to each other, not just to Zuni DB
-- we haven't really discussed this yet
- Cynthia said that it would be very useful if when AAMHC updates (say) a stew bowl, other institutions with similar objects are notified
- some institutions (say, SAR) might want ALL updates, while others might not
- instead of a portal pulling it all together, we're creating something more like a web of collections

- this may not change the ways that libraries, museums, archives think about sharing everything - "knowledge is free"
-- but it might make them more uncomfortable about the idea
- answering the question "How do we know what they say is any good?"
-- range of expertise - different kinds

Subtle difference - really powerful thing - not just about sending messages out and receiving them
- it's about the data actually coming here to Zuni, to be modified / reused / critiqued
- will open eyes of museums - looking at items in an entirely different way

- the advantage of digital here - data - is that data can move around much easier
-- creating a collection for comparison that doesn't exist in the physical world
- as we expand the partnerships further, the good news is that the threshold for entry is pretty low and the relationship isn't automatically two-way
-- we can stipulate that cultural advisors have to visit before museum can subscribe to AAMHC
- building a series of linking interfaces
-- for Argus, mySQL, Oracle, FileMaker, etc
- but there's still the issue of how institutions handle updates within their data structure

* we will need to write up the parameters for participation for new partners *
-- "here's what you need to decide internally for your data structure & updates"
Thinking hard about categories and what is interesting - what we'll want to do with the info

Later in the day, we talked over many details & decisions that we need to make to implement the system, which I'll cover in another post.

CCC project updates - Nov and Dec

Hello everyone,

Without meaning to, I let two months go by without an update -- my apologies. Especially since lots of good things have been going on!

Top on the list was a very successful mini-meeting that we had at the beginning of December. Robin came over from the UK to spend a week at AAMHC working with Curtis to get a system in place to begin sharing with people at Zuni. Ramesh and I came out for a little while to see how things were progressing, and we were joined by Daf Harries, who is going to be our hired consultant to develop the mechanism to transfer data between the museum systems. He will be using an open-source program called CouchDB to make it happen.

As I understand it, CouchDB will create a duplicate database of the Zuni objects in each museum's collections, and since all of the partners will have their own local CouchDB databases, sharing information between them will be easy. Daf will develop individualized software to move data between each partner's CMS (Argus for example) and that institution's CouchDB system. And, each institution will be able to decide how they will handle updates coming in - whether they want to review them, have them automatically update their own catalogs, that kind of thing. As far as we can tell, this is the best solution to the interoperability problem that's been one of our biggest challenges. Daf created a presentation that explains how this is going to work a little bit better, and I've attached it to this message. More on this to come as things progress...

I am putting together my notes from this meeting to post on the project blog, so you all are welcome to take a look once those are up.

In other news, we have been hearing very positive things regarding the NSF proposal that Ramesh submitted several months ago. This proposal would cover an expansion of our project to include additional communities of 'experts' who will be making contributions to the system -- archaeologists and museum curators. Even better, this proposal would be able to fund more equipment like servers and computers at AAMHC. We haven't gotten a 100% yes that we're getting funded, but they have asked us for things like IRB certification, which indicates things are moving in that direction.

Something that came to my attention during the meeting was that Robin hasn't received the digitized images from DMNS -- Chip, I recall that those were either finished or nearly finished. Would you mind following up on that, and making sure that Robin receives those images, so he can get them into the system at Zuni? Thanks!

We also weren't sure whether we are expecting object images from Museum of Northern Arizona -- Robert, were we going to get images for the system from MNA? I can't recall...

And one last thing - we need to submit letters to IMLS that certifies each partner's contributions to the cost share. Our grant admin Tracy has been reaching out to the business reps at each of the museums, and she hasn't received a reply. I'll be sending out individual emails to each partner to facilitate this, so please look for that to come soon.

As always, please let me know if you have questions or concerns. Happy holidays to everyone!


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Intellectual Property and the Safeguarding of Traditional Culture

I just came across this publication from WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) and thought that it highlights areas of museum resources that we have not exactly been ignoring, but have not really considered very much. These include the vast number of photos, archives and/or other documentation held by many museums. I recommend that everyone have a read of this. You can download the report here:


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Some web history

I came across some in-house papers that have never been published from when we were doing some very early work on the Web in the mid-1990s. I was fascinated by how much the ideas overlapped with what we are doing now, so I decided to publish them on my blog. Have a look if you are interested. Only the first is up so far, Toys For Boys, but I will be putting the others up too.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Interim Performance Report - October 31, 2010

IMLS Interim Performance Report Narrative
Creating Collaborative Catalogs: Using Digital Technologies to Expand Museum Collections with Indigenous Knowledge
Grant number: LG-24-09-0106-09
October 31, 2010
PI: Ramesh Srinivasan, UCLA –

We have made much progress on the four major goals we have had in this first 12 months of the project period, and we have accomplished much in the six months since our last performance report.

1. Planning, selection of collections, digitization (October '09-August '10)
During the last six months, we have accomplished much in the outstanding areas of collections digitization for our project. In the time since our last performance report, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science has completed the imaging and digitization of 667 selected objects, including historic photos, that remained to be done, and these images will be populated into the Collaborative Catalog system very soon. The MAA is about 60% of the way through digitizing the historic archives from the 1920s excavations at Kechiba:wa which they expect to complete before the end of the year.

2. Collaborative Catalog design and build (November '09 - October '10)
Since our last report, we have made some progress in terms of the design and build of our collaborative catalog.

One bit of luck that we have had in terms of system development is that Questor Systems (the makers of the Argus catalog that several of our partner museums are using) has recently been purchased by SydneyPlus. This is a promising development for our project, since Questor had previously been unenthusiastic about supporting the interoperable data-handling that we were asking for, which made for a challenging time in developing the collaborative catalog. The new owners of the Argus system are still talking about making an add-on for the upcoming Argus that will allow for the data to be fed out via the ATOM protocol (which is a good thing for our project since this kind of feed is both easy to use and can be read by many local databases). ATOM feeds will also best accommodate our pubsubhubbub interfaces. We are in an ongoing conversation with SydneyPlus to see if they can prioritize this aspect of their system development, but for the moment it is a low priority for them.

However, with the appointment of our developers for linking systems (Dafydd Harries and Tony Garnock-Jones) we are moving forward with developing systems that will not rely only on ATOM feeds but on a separately managed dataset. This means that we will be able to share data regardless of the database systems used by the individual museums. This is necessary as now the DMNS and a peripheral partner, the Maxwell Museum, are abandoning ARGUS for other systems. The current goal is to develop a linking system that will allow linking to whatever database or CMS is at either end for maximum scalability.

3. Data transfer (partners to AAMHC) (March '10 - June '10)
We have achieved a significant milestone in terms of our data transfer goal. The preliminary data transfer has been completed. We are still waiting for all of the related images to all get populated in the database, but since this is linked to the almost-completed digitization goal discussed above, this step will get completed very soon. We have a rich repository of data, although some work remains to be done towards tying in the images with the data. Our goal is to include as many images as possible, since images are such an important indicator of the physical existence of objects. All our research so far into what users want in the collaborative catalog underscores the importance of images.

4. Catalog launch, use, and evaluation (Present – June '12)
In the current version of the Collaborative Catalog, we are still working towards populating the database with every record. Instead, in the prototype of the catalog that is currently in use, the collection limited to a portion of the total collection (images and records related to the Zuni Day School), in order to test the interface and work through any problems. This sub-set of the collection also relates to an upcoming exhibition being launched at AAMHC.

According to our partners at AAMHC, the work that we have done so far on the Creating Collaborative Catalogs project has been very helpful for how the AAMHC has approached the Zuni Day School collection, both in terms of cataloging and in developing interpretive material. The process and attitude towards collections has shifted: each catalog record is viewed as a first step in the process, rather than the final voice about this image or drawing. Because we know that these records will be added to and expanded, the process of cataloging and preliminary data entry for minimally documented collections is fundamentally different. Our colleagues report that they are looking forward to what other people will add to these records.

Our partners at the AAMHC also report another important development which can be attributed to the work on the Creating Collaborative Catalogs project. They report that this project is changing the way they are working with outside experts, helping to reestablish a level of confidence and assurance in working with outsiders which has been eroded over time. Not only do they trust the people to appropriately handle the materials being entrusted to their care, they are assured that the system we develop will be created appropriately.

Something else that we have done is use this smaller subset of the collection to test a model for facilitating comments from community elders via the help of four community curators. These community curators have used the system to each select ten images, and along with the help of a questionnaire, each interview ten people, primarily older Zunis, to gather their responses about three images of their choice. Eventually, we want community members to comment directly into the system, but our experience here reminds us that facilitating comments from elders that have English as a second language is a big challenge, but nevertheless one that we can overcome.

Some questions that we asked:
"Of the ten images you see, pick three and describe what you see."
"What did these pictures make you think about?"
"Has looking at these pictures make you think differently about your work or home life? If so, how?"
"Have the pictures made you think about how you talk with or work with your children?"
"Were you a student at the Zuni Day School? If yes, when? What did you like or not like about being a ZDS student?"
"Do you think the zuni day school pictures would be beneficial for students attending zuni schools?"

During the next phase of system development, we will be sharing the system with our Zuni cultural advisors, from whom we will be gathering feedback about the system interface and usability as well as system architecture and protocols of access. We expect to go through several iterations of design and gathering of feedback with our cultural advisors. Dr. Boast will be spending a week in Zuni this December to work with the Zuni cultural advisors to further refine and develop the prototype system.

In terms of the project evaluation aspect of our project, we are planning a partial team meeting to take place at the end of November, where we will hold the first of our focus groups about the Collaborative Catalog. We have developed a guide for conducting focus groups to assist our project team at Zuni in holding the focus groups, and the UCLA team will observe the first focus group to make sure the process goes smoothly. Our goal is to launch the catalog and have users interacting with it prior to the first of these focus groups, so we expect the catalog to go live very, very soon.

5. Other project milestones
Another project milestone worth noting is our gaining approval of our human subjects protocol from UCLA's Institutional Review Board. Because we will be conducting focus groups, and because all of the research will be conducted by AAMHC staff at Zuni under the auspices of UCLA's IRB (which presented several bureaucratic hurdles in itself), it took nearly seven months to obtain approval for our human subjects protocol. But now that we are approved to begin conducting focus groups with participants, and we have a clear date established for our first focus group sessions, we will begin the project evaluation phase at the end of November.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A discussion of the theory behind our project

Earlier this year, Ramesh gave a presentation at a conference at NYU where he discussed some of the bigger theoretical ideas behind our project.

Srinivasan from Robert Gregson on Vimeo.

He starts discussing the Zuni project around minute 14. Interesting stuff!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Liquid Publication for the Sciences (?)

Yesterday I got a notification of a project headed by Fabio Casati, of the University of Trento in Italy, which could be of interest to us. It is a Framework 7 project (an EU funded project) which, according to their website, "proposes a paradigm shift in the way scientific knowledge is created, disseminated, evaluated and maintained. This shift is enabled by the notion of Liquid Publications, which are evolutionary, collaborative, and composable scientific contributions. Many Liquid Publication concepts are based on a parallel between scientific knowledge artifacts and software artifacts, and hence on lessons learned in (agile, collaborative, open source) software development, as well as on lessons learned from Web 2.0 in terms of collaborative evaluation of knowledge artifacts."

I am not yet sure, as it is not certain what exactly they mean by this, but such an idea could have consequences for our future work. I will contact Casati and see what this is all about and report back.

Best, R.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Paper 1 is FINALLY published!

After two years of being 'in press', our first paper to be completed and submitted has finally come out!

Srinivasan, Ramesh, Katherine M. Becvar, Robin Boast, and Jim Enote. 2010. Diverse knowledges and contact zones within the digital museum. Science, Technology, and Human Values, 35(5): 735-768.

"As museums begin to revisit their definition of ‘‘expert’’ in light of theories about the local character of knowledge, questions emerge about how museums can reconsider their documentation of knowledge about objects. How can a museum present different and possibly conflicting perspectives in such a way that the tension between them is preserved? This article expands upon a collaborative research project between the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology at Cambridge University, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center to compare descriptions of museum objects by multiple expert communities. We found that narratives and objects in use are key omissions in traditional museum documentation, offering us several possibilities to expand our concept of digital objects. Digital objects will allow members of indigenous source communities to contribute descriptive information about objects to support local cultural revitalization efforts and also to influence how objects are represented in distant cultural institutions."

This is possibly our most important paper, and features an informational graphic that I created (and of which I am quite proud):

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

paper brainstorming - typology of digital collections - more thoughts

So I've had a chance to do some brainstorming about this 'digital collections typology' -- thinking about the variables that we can use to compare the different projects that use digital technologies to share their collections with stakeholder communities.

The first one that emerged was How is source community knowledge regarded?

On one end of the spectrum there are projects that use the language of sharing: knowledge is given, collected, enhances collections information. The majority of the projects I've seen fall in this camp, I think.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are projects that recognize that knowledge is not monolithic: there is dialogue and sometimes disagreement, there are multiple perspectives about objects -- the incommensurability that we keep talking about in some of our earlier papers.

Another variable that we might use is How are users regarded?
Are they active agents in producing information? or passive consumers of information?

-- a related issue to this one is how easy is it for a user to contribute to the catalog? Is it as easy as filling in a field and pressing 'submit'? or are there more steps involved in becoming someone the museum thinks worthy of contributing to the collection information?

There were several other issues that I thought of, but they did not seem to fall on a spectrum or axis:

-- local use of information -- how is the information used locally? do the projects acknowledge that collections information can be used in unexpected ways within source communities? do they facilitate this local 'life' of information?
-- identification of individual contributors -- whether the 'community knowledge' comes from named individuals, or if it's added in without identifying who it came from.

I'm sure other issues will emerge, and I will refine (and possibly combine) some of these variables, but that's what I have for now.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

monthly status reports ?

I've been thinking recently that it might be a good idea to implement a more regular system of keeping in touch and updating each other on the status of project tasks -- something like a check-in / status update. Towards that end, I would like to start doing a monthly email where each of the project partners is given a chance to report on the status of things on their end. Just so we're in better touch with each other, on a more regular basis, since we've all been busy this spring, and a bit more out of touch than I would like.

I'm hoping to also post some of those more informal updates here on the project blog, so that it becomes a resource that we can refer to later. I encourage you all to subscribe to be notified of blog updates -- I've been starting to update it more frequently, with interesting info both about our project, and similar projects underway at other institutions. You can enter your email where it says "Subscribe via email" at the top left of the page.

To kick off the conversation, the following is a list of tasks that are still in process, and I'd love folks to chime in where they have something to include.

Current tasks:

- catalog data transfer to Robin (should be finished already, or near to finished)

- DMNS photography/digitization -- how are things going on that, Chip?

- working towards the catalog launch -- Robin, what remains to be done, and can any of us help? And Jim, is there anything you need on your end?

- catalog evaluation -- I'll be starting to finalize the questions and instructions for Jim and the team at Zuni for running the focus groups. I'm also STILL working with UCLA's IRB to get the human subjects paperwork all taken care of.

Thanks for staying in touch, everyone! Hope you all are well.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

paper brainstorming - typology of digital collections

Ramesh and I had a conversation last week where we talked about digital museums/collections -- an area of research that I've been working on recently (and posting about on this blog: here, here, and here). Eventually this will be developed into a paper, and I wanted to put some of our ideas up here on the blog for everyone's discussion and consideration.
  • Once I've looked through a bunch of examples, Ramesh wants me to build a typology of sorts, based around how these digital collections work with new media and allow other ways of interaction with communities.
  • Creating it so that it's not just a list, but a landscape of what's out there in terms of these digital collections (not digital museums, because we're not talking about online exhibits, but rather online catalogs).
  • Articulating their relationship with one another and with our project
  • Based around certain variables : ie. use of blogging, semantic tagging, other sociotechnical issues
  • thinking about different axes - mapping those examples, then presenting in context, and comparing/contrasting with where our project stands
  • also addressing a larger set of questions about how information institutions open up and represent other voices, and the sociotechnical issues that come up
By 'sociotechnical', I mean the problems/issues that arise at the intersection between people and technology. For example, systems that aren't designed to accommodate controls around sensitive information, or allow communities to set permissions for access based on their own cultural protocols of access.

The important thing is to situate our project relative to other digital institutional collections-based projects that are working with communities. Looking at the institutions, and the systems. Not necessarily all indigenous communities, but it wouldn't be a bad thing if all our examples had that in common.

Eventually this will be developed into a paper that is a justification for our project relative to what's out there. With a title that's something like "Enabling Voice in Digital Collections" (have to define what we mean by voice, and how different systems enable voice). The key would be to extract that model/ those variables and placing different projects along an axis/axes. Possibly we can include some evaluative data from our project, but maybe not (depending on whether it ends up being relevant).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Things to think about : questions from IMLS

Ramesh was just telling us about his recent meeting with the team from IMLS that came to Los Angeles for the recent AAM meeting. They had some important questions/points to consider, and I wanted to put them here for us to start thinking about and possibly responding to.

A. First of all, they wanted to know more about the system -- what it is going to look like, whether there will be a web page or something for public access (and by public I assume they mean everybody, not just 'public' (in-person) access at a terminal at AAMHC). Also, they were curious what the Zuni interface would look like. I think that we're getting to a point where we might start having something to show off (right Robin?) -- at the very least we have the working Filemaker Pro database that Robin and Curtis have been tinkering with, based on the catalog that the DAM sent to AAMHC last year. I think Robin will have to say more about this.

B. Something else they mentioned was the UIUC (University of Illinois Urbana Champaign) Digital Collections and Content portal.
I've seen this site before, possibly when we were working on the grant application? It seems that IMLS is encouraging their funded digital projects to participate in this portal, in essence placing all of their digital 'eggs' in one basket. Which I am not sure is exactly what we are going for -- it appears to be a big giant portal that allows access to all these nifty collections, but you still have to go through the portal to get at the collections. As laudable a goal that the interoperability of collections metadata is (with larger and larger portals), sticking it all in one place like this is just one method for making technology work better between museums and source communities.

In reference to this UIUC portal, Robin made the point, "what we are trying to do is to make real event driven data sharing." Meaning that rather than having to go through one of these portals to get at interesting information, that information is being pushed towards you (triggered by an 'event' such as an upload or annotation to a catalog record). Again, this event-driven data sharing issue goes back to the idea behind WebHooks, which I talked about in an earlier post.

C. Also, they are wanting to know more about how this project can be sustainably adopted at Zuni, and how our project can easily scale to other museums and other indigenous communities. I think the important point to make here is to focus on the 'information push' aspect of what we're doing. The biggest thing we're doing here is not that we're building a local database at Zuni with catalog records from all the different partner museums, but that we're essentially connecting that local database with the catalogs of the partner museums in a way that data can get pushed back and forth -- this connecting piece is the thing that we hope will scale to other museums and other communities. Reinventing the museum catalog as something that many communities have something to contribute to -- curatorial experts and source communities both.

So in essence, what we have to offer to other museums & source communities are two sides of the same coin -- on the one side, an ethical/social/political stance that wants to open up the way that information is accumulated and shared in museum catalogs; and on the other side, a concrete technological way of making that happen.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

ECHO project

I'm following up with a few more interesting projects from the Museum 3.0 discussion I mentioned in the last post.

From their presentation at Museums and the Web 2008:
"ECHO (Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations) is a federally funded partnership of six cultural institutions in Hawai'i, Alaska, Mississippi and Massachusetts linking Native and non-Native communities, and re-connecting Native people with collections of Native American art, objects and history."

The current list of institutions involved are the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, North Slope Borough, and the Peabody Essex Museum -- quite a geographically dispersed group!

The focus of the project's collaborative websites seems to be more oriented towards highly-polished, content-heavy web-presentations, rather than relying on emergent, Web 2.0-style systems to produce content. What they have achieved in terms of institutional collaboration is laudable, but upon closer examination that's one of the only similarities this effort has with our project. The thrust of what they are doing seems to be more focused on the collaboration between institutions rather than how institutional collaborations can also involve communities directly, getting them to produce content and participate in catalog creation.

Most relevant to our project is the ECHOspace website, which is a shared catalog portal of the different partner's collections. Again, though, users are not seen as agents of participation, but rather just consumers of the information.

Closer to what we're aiming for is another related website, Artscape, which was created by one of the ECHO partners, the Peabody Museum. According to the Archives & Museum Informatics presentation,
"it includes two innovations addressing needs most clearly voiced, in PEM’s experience, by Native museum professionals and communities. First, the structure of the database is open, allowing, for example, for multiple documents, images, audio or video files to be attached to a single object, and allowing for commentary from multiple viewpoints – consulting curators or cultural experts, for example – to be attached to a single object record."

I like the user interface on this museum's site, with three different areas permanently on the screen -- the upper area is for a user's personal collection, the middle area is for searching and looking closely at catalog entries, and the lower area is for reviewing search results via thumbnails and titles and dates when the user mouses-over. Despite the nice interface, and the claim above, the ability for a user to participate is limited to this 'personal collection' thing -- no way to annotate or contribute to entries. It is not clear what happens when "cultural experts" have something to contribute or correct in the catalog.

All in all, the ECHO project seems to be an ambitious effort, and what they have produced in terms of educational content (especially related to school curriculum) is quite an achievement. And it seems reflective of what their main intention is. Similar in some respects to what we are trying to produce, but very different in others.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Plateau Peoples' Web Portal

After reading through the fascinating discussion taking place over at Museums 3.0 about social networking and museums working with source communities, I've got a basketful of interesting museum projects to write up and share.

The first of these is one of Kimberley Christen's latest efforts, the Plateau Peoples' Web Portal. (Kim's work has been very inspiring to our project team for several years now).

From the 'Project Overview' page:
"This project aims to create not just a digital portal to view content, but also a different paradigm for the curation, distribution, and reproduction of Native peoples' cultural materials."

From the 'Visitors' page:
"Whereas in many museum and archive settings knowledge is "given," here we have sought to create a space to open dialogue and allow many perspectives to sit side by side. Instead of "finding" information, the portal seeks to be a space where knowledge is created in constant conversation."

The collection is mostly archival in nature (ie. photographs, articles, clippings, and the like). There are several interesting features built into the system, particularly in how the architecture is organized first into 'tribal paths' (Yakama, Coeur d'Alene, and Umatilla) , and second into categories like 'lifeways', 'government to government relations', 'artistry and artifacts', 'language', 'religion', etc. I also really enjoy that for individual records, there are all kinds of descriptive metadata available in addition to the original catalogue record -- related items, map, tribal catalogue record, tribal knowledge, people, and "categories, tribal paths, and restrictions".

I like that the information isn't all visible at once, but that the user has the option of looking at the metadata that he/she is interested in, bit by bit. In terms of usability, this is a great way of keeping the information overload problem down to a minimum.

While it looks like they still have a ways to go in terms of gathering comments from community members, I always appreciate seeing a well-designed and well-oriented project along the same lines as our own. Great job Kim and everyone on the project team!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

IMLS progress report

IMLS Interim Performance Report Narrative
Creating Collaborative Catalogs: Using Digital Technologies to Expand Museum Collections with Indigenous Knowledge
Grant number: LG-24-09-0106-09
May 1, 2010
PI: Ramesh Srinivasan, UCLA –

We had four major goals during this initial phase of the grant, and we have been able to accomplish much within these goals.

1. Planning, selection of collections, digitization (Oct. 2009-Aug. 2010)

A. Planning Meeting Decmber '09:
We were able to accomplish several important steps in terms of project planning during this initial phase of the grant. All but one of the project partners were able to meet at Zuni for our kick-off meeting in December (this partner met us via teleconference), where we discussed many of the broad strokes of how the Collaborative Catalog system and larger project will be set up and how it will function when implemented. Our meeting discussions centered around three primary topics: the system setup and architecture (and a non-technical discussion of how we will get the different systems to talk to each other); evaluations, scale, and the distilling of best practices (and what we want success to look like); and intellectual property and protocol issues.

System setup and architecture:
The back-end of our system is going to be built using an emerging tool called Web Hooks, which is a web-based mini-program designed to pay attention to ‘events’ within a database. When a certain event occurs that changes the overall state of the system -- such as the 'remarks' field in an object record at a partner museum being updated with new information -- this mini-program knows to take a specific action -- in this case, sending the updated information along to update the collaborative catalog records. The upshot of this is that as information is updated, both in the databases at the partner museums AND the Zuni system, the systems will be able to synchronize automatically. The goal of this project again as mentioned in the proposal is to build this Collaborative Catalog System as an interface between a local tribal museum system (that can be scaled to any tribal museum) and ARGUS-based digital museum systems.

There are three major engineering/software tasks that are fundamental to this 'collaborative catalog': 1) a script to format the content coming via the Collaborative Catalog system to the Zuni system from outside museum partners; 2) The local Zuni system, which will be housed on a server at the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center (AAMHC) in Zuni, which will have a simple front-end interface allowing users to view museum objects and comment upon them (as well as add their own digital objects (video/photo/text) to the system); and 3) the Web Hooks 'pub-sub' protocol (publish-subscribe) that pushes information back and forth which is fundamental to the Collaborative Catalog System. We expect that all three of the aspects of our project that will be the most portable and adaptable to applications in other museums and museum consortia are actually all three of the above. The idea again as articulated in our IMLS proposal is one of building a Collaborative Catalog layer that can articulate knowledge across networks between a set of digital museums that use ARGUS and a local Zuni system.

Evaluations, and what we want success to look like:
We identified a number of primary activities where outcomes-based evaluation can be used, and we brainstormed around the best means of achieving these outcomes: 1) designing creating the system at Zuni, and monitoring its use within the community; 2) creating the Web Hooks scripts/ protocols for the Collaborative Catalog, and monitoring the number of collections records that were updated and improved using this; and 3) the leadership workshop that we will host at the end of year 3, where we present our system and methods to interested parties from other museums and tribes, and where we will monitor attendance and outcomes of what workshop participants do with what they've learned.

While we were discussing evaluations, the question of "what would success look like?" was put on the table. Jim Enote, the director of the AAMHC, talked about the desire to allow this system to truly be impactful of life at Zuni, including sharing the system and engaging schools and artists to use the system, and to be able to expand and extend it to other places and institutions (such as the National Parks & Monuments). He also spoke eloquently about the sense of hopelessness that people feel at Zuni when thinking about Zuni objects in other places, since the objects have been absent from everyday and contemporary life and community members are disconnected from this tangible patrimony, not knowing where the objects reside in many cases. He said that this contributes to sometimes negative feelings tribal members have about museums. Projects like ours are a really important part of closing the loop and enabling the museum to be a relevant continued space to underserved publics and source communities. This is ideally instantiated via our creative deployment of this system.

The protocols of sharing - ideas and discussion
An important part of our meeting (and project as a whole) was our discussion about the protocols of sharing information, using the appropriate protections for Zuni intellectual property. The goal is to create an architecture of the system that works with the different notions of property, knowledge, and information circulation as they stand with the multiple partners, and be respectful to Zuni practices and local social and cultural expectations. Therefore, the team agreed these intellectual property protections & protocols are an important element of our project, but exactly what form they will take and what they will look like must be worked out. At our kickoff meeting, we had a lengthy discussion and came up with several ideas that we would like to put into practice, and see if they work.

What emerged from our discussion was a 'moderated' sort of system where the appropriate religious leaders would review the object information coming into the database at AAMHC and make a determination about whether specific objects can be accessed by all Zunis, only certain groups, or only religious leaders. Many local especially tribal communities hold such local protocols which are critical to the continued presence of cultural traditions. For the objects that are accessible by everyone at Zuni, the system will allow comments, feedback, and corrections (this includes one idea, suggested by Museum of Northern Arizona director Robert Breunig to have a section called "things the museum would like to know", which we thought could also be called a "set the record straight" tab for Zunis who have information that they feel they wish to share that might contrast with something they have seen in the existing digital museum catalogs).

The steps in the process:
1. cultural advisors determine which objects are best to be shared at Zuni, and they set permissions for access to objects
2. Zuni users come in to AAMHC & interact with catalog, adding text, audio, video, etc.
3. individual set levels of access to their comments
(ie. Zuni community only | museum staff only | staff and public (just ideas) )
4. advisors get to review information
5. Zuni's info goes out to museum via WebHooks script

Our idea was to have a "parking lot" / "holding area" / "filter" where Zuni cultural advisors can monitor information coming into and out of the database. The question about how much work this filter will be was raised, and not exactly answered. We will want to phase into this, to see how it works and to see whether we need to rethink this setup.

We discussed for some time whether these comments should also be reviewed before being sent along to the outside museums, since we wouldn't want sensitive information to be inadvertently made public through our system. On the other hand, the task of reviewing (possibly) hundreds of comments about hundreds of objects is pretty intimidating. We do not yet know if people will make mistakes with sensitive information, but one decision we made was to make it as clear as we can that a user's comments can be either "Public" or "For Zunis Only", and each user will have to establish who can access their comments -- letting the community self-regulate. The most appropriate solution has yet to be determined, and it is likely that we will not know until we begin testing the system with a preliminary group of users.

B. Selections of collections and digitization:
Much has been done towards this end during this first phase of the grant. Most of the grant partners have digitized their relevant collections now (with the exception of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science), and previous collections reviews and/or consultations between the partner museums and the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center have yielded smaller sub-sets of objects that might be of the most interest to Zuni catalog users.

For those partners still needing to digitize their Zuni collections, some progress has been made in this first six months of the grant period. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science has worked to lay the groundwork for its participation in the online catalog. Specifically, the Curator of Anthropology has collated and refined the list of objects to be included, and worked with the Anthropology Collections Manager, Image Archivist, and Museum Photographer to create a process to begin photographing the objects and embedding documentation information within the digital images. On March 8-10, Zuni members and AAMHC staff Jim Enote, Octavius Seowtewa, and Curtis Quam visited the museum, making a preliminary examination of objects, vetting the object list, and providing guidance to the Museum Photographer. To date, some 160 objects have been photographed, created 359 images (many objects are photographed from multiple angles) for the project.

And since almost all of the collections from the other project partners were digitized prior to the start of the grant, the work is focused on the issue of extracting the relevant data from their systems and loading that data into our prototype system (see below).

2. Collaborative Catalog system development (November '09 - October '11)
The system development for Creating Collaborative Catalogs has been in happening in two parts. The first part has been to develop a local catalog system at the AAMHC in Zuni to accumulate and make use of the diverse catalog records and images from the other museums. The second part has been to develop the pubsub/WebHooks system for communicating between the institutions.

The first part, the development of the catalog at Zuni has been completed to the first prototype stage. A working system exists, in FileMaker Pro 11, and 9582 records have been uploaded from the four partner museums including 1257 images. The current prototype includes the ability to add Zuni knowledge to each record; add new images, sound files or videos; request new images or information from the holding institution; and to create relationships between the object records. In addition, there is an easy to use search feature that allows the searching of record data, image data and/or Zuni information.

The second part, that of the pubsub/Webhooks interface is also going well. The project is now working with Josh Frazer, a developer in Boulder, Colorado, who is also one of the original developers of the Google Code Pubsubhubbub hub, as well as the developer of the Wordpress Webhooks plug-in. Josh will be helping us over the summer to finish the development of a Webhooks hub and interfaces between the separate museum systems. Another issue with this part of the development has been ARGUS, a proprietary Collections Management System (CMS). Several of the museums use ARGUS as their CMS and, as a very limited and rigid system, it has proved very difficult to interface with. However, at the end of March, Questor Systems, the developer of ARGUS, was bought out by SydneyPLUS. Dr. Boast contacted SydneyPLUS in the middle of April and has had a very positive response from the company. As a result, Questor Systems and Dr. Boast are now in discussions as to how they can build a WebHooks module into ARGUS. Regardless of this challenge we have discovered some mechanisms by which we can work with the ARGUS systems, at least when they export information into readable spreadsheet and other database formats

3. Data transfer (partners to AAMHC) (March '10 - June '10)
Initially, we met with some frustrating challenges in getting data out of the systems of the partner museums in order to start working with it in the Collaborative Catalog. The ARGUS system has a very restrictive way of managing data (as noted above), which meant that we had to develop a creative workaround to start getting data into the new system. The partner museums each created an Excel spreadsheet with all of the relevant metadata from their catalogs, which were then integrated into the Collaborative Catalog. This is a preliminary solution that is less than ideal, since it lacks the important characteristic of ongoing, automatic updates. But as noted above, it is likely that this will not be a problem for too much longer, since the ARGUS system may undergo a significant redesign in the near future. The preliminary data transfer has been completed, and as we make progress on the system development, the ongoing nature of data transfer will start taking place.

4. Catalog launch, use, and evaluation (Present – June 12)
As we are working on the finalization of the data transfer issue, we have yet to complete the system’s initial deployment. But our timetable is allowing us to launch the prototype system with users by June of this year, which will coincide with the opening of a new exhibit at the AAMHC about the Zuni Day School, and using additional collections from the Maxwell Museum at UNM, a new potential partner to the project (many other museums have also expressed similar interest in our efforts!). The Maxwell as mentioned has expressed interest in the work that we are doing, and they have agreed to allow us to integrate their data into our Collaborative Catalog. Therefore, we believe that launching our catalog at the opening of this exhibit is timely and appropriate.

As mentioned, we have worked to make great progress (better than even expected!) on the four major goals held during this initial phase of the grant, and also are placing our communications and updates on our project blog:

We thank the IMLS again for its most generous support of this important effort and are available to answer any further questions from IMLS staff. Dr. Srinivasan, PI of this effort, can be reached easily at

Thank you,

Professor Ramesh Srinivasan
UCLA, Dept. of Information Studies

Monday, April 12, 2010

Google Docs gets a full overhaul

As we have always done a lot of collaborative writing on Google Docs, I thought you would all like to know about the new Google Docs. They have completely rewritten Docs with a number of new features that will help us in our collaborative writing. See here: for an update.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Another project worth a look - SI's Arctic Studies Institute

I've just been exploring the website for the Smithsonian Institution's Arctic Studies Institute "Sharing Knowledge" project. What a great project!

From their "About this project" page:

"The goals of Sharing Knowledge are to make the Smithsonian collections accessible to all and to support cross-cultural learning among Indigenous home communities, in schools, and around the world. Interest in the extraordinary arts and cultural heritage of the North is truly global in scope. Participants in this project are Elders, scholars, artists, and teachers who invite all to explore, learn, and appreciate."

They seem to have done a thorough job of community involvement in all aspects of the project. Object pages (like the one in the screenshot above) have links to video of elders talking about the objects, text transcripts of what the elders said, as well as curatorial research about particular objects and their cultural context. These are featured in a section with different tabs: "Elders' Discussion" "History" and "Visitor Comments". What's even better, the pages default to the "Elders' Discussion" tab. The page featured above has a discussion of the materials used to make the parka, as well as a related story told by an elder and translated from the native language line by line. WOW! The more I look at it, the better it gets!

In particular, this section (from the About page again) got me very excited:
"Collaborative Process

The Sharing Knowledge project seeks to follow best practices and standards for cultural research and interpretation. Interview information, including audio and video recordings, was generously provided for public use by members of Indigenous communities, with their informed consent, permission, and review. All of the Washington, D.C. collections study trips were organized in coordination with regional Alaska Native organizations, including the Aleutian-Pribilof Islands Association, IƱupiat Heritage Center, Kawerak, Inc, Sealaska Heritage Institute, Tanana Chiefs Conference, and the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center and Museum. These organizations selected and invited the participants on our behalf. For the Sugpiaq region, we thank the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository for its cooperation. Complete discussion transcripts and recordings are archived at the Arctic Studies Center in Anchorage, with copies provided to the cooperating regional organizations. A statewide panel of Alaska Native and museum advisors (see Credits) has provided overall guidance on exhibition and web design. We hope and expect that the site will provide a significant resource for cultural heritage programs throughout the project region."

This project will probably become my favorite example of the kind of thing we're trying to build. Certainly worth a look!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Some more news about the fields

One thing I forgot about in the last post about the database fields was the institution_code. This should be set by the AAMHC and should be a unique code (probably 3 letters) for each institution they deal with. This can be added to any information passed to the AAMHC just so they know what data is coming from who.

I have also done a proforma Excel file and a proforma XML file for museums to contribute data. These should be easy to automatically import into the AAMHC database. The XML proforma includes the format for sending images and videos. We will have to work out some system for the ARGUS users to send images as well.

Example of XML proforma:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<cmsdata xmlns:aamhc="">

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<cmsimage xmlns:aamhc="">

What fields? Sharing between Argus, AAMHC and others.

I have been working on not only how to get the information from the partner museums to Zuni, but also what information to get. This is not easy as it seems largely impossible to find out exactly what fields ARGUS uses, but these seem to change, a bit, from museum to museum. There is also the question of matching up the information we can get out of Argus with other more extensive CMSs like the one at the MAA. However, progress has been made and I want to put this out for discussion.

Looking at the Argus output from the DMNS, MNA, DAM and IARC it seems that though there are slightly different field names in some cases, and different field use, a core set of data can be identified. The overlap with the MAA data is also good. Further, as the MAA data follows pretty closely the SPECTRUM documentation standard, that means that these fields should map well with just about any CMS.

I had trouble getting the blog to accept the table I created, so here is the link to the google spreadsheet with the comparison between the partners and the list of fields that I suggest, at the moment, should be the core of what is imported into the AAMHC database. I should emphasize that this list is just what will be imported from the partner museums into the AAMHC database, and does not determine, in any way, what the AAMHC will do with that data once it is in.

I now have to start working with how to get the data from AAMHC back to the other museums. This is a bigger problem!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

AAMHC's new website!

Well, it may not be all that new, but it's new to me, and I think it's just smashing! Curtis and Jim have done a lovely job of putting this together -- well done!

And they have a page that talks about our project--

I particularly like this explanation of what we're doing:

"Emerging technologies may be able to help us experience the beauty of some items without having to pay the expense of maintaining or curating the items. Whatever direction we take to respectfully deal with thousands of Zuni items that were taken from Zuni, this project will help us shape the discussion so we can make the best-informed decisions possible. "

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"Archaeology and Accountability" on Native America Calling

Jim Enote, one of our project collaborators at the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center was featured on the call-in radio program Native America Calling several days ago. From their website:

"Thursday, January 21, 2010
Archaeology and Accountability:
Archaeology, ethics and Native Americans have never quite seen eye-to-eye. But this trio may be forging a less antagonistic approach towards one another these days. Ancient Indian artifacts are still hot selling items and ancient Indian burial grounds and graves are still being robbed. But the archaeological field is showing signs of a willingness to collaborate in new and more ethical ways when it comes to Native views and beliefs. Is archaeology ready to be accountable to Native folks? Guests include Jim Enote (Zuni) Director/A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Janine Bowechop (Makah) Director/Makah Cultural and Research Center."

Listen here

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Press release - announcing the grant award

For Immediate Use

Shaena Engle,

(310) 206-5951


UCLA’s Department of Information Studies, housed in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies (GSE&IS), was awarded a $351,398 grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The new project, "Creating Collaborative Catalogs," will partner Information Studies students and faculty with the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center in Zuni, New Mexico, to create a collaborative catalog enabling people from Native communities to view, learn about, and comment on objects currently housed in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver Art Museum, the Museum of Northern Arizona, and Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

“The project brings museums and source communities closer together to develop and share knowledge about culturally-significant museum collections in culturally-appropriate ways,” said Information Studies Assistant Professor Ramesh Srinivasan, principal investigator for the project. This project represents an important step forward in museum-community collaboration, allowing tribes to begin setting the record straight while keeping intellectual property protections around some areas of traditional knowledge. To learn more about the “Creating Collaborative Catalogs” project, please visit

“We believe that museums and libraries play an important role in building a competitive workforce and engaged citizenry. We are equally confident that these institutions will elevate museum and library practice through this work,” said Anne-Imelda M. Radice, director of IMLS.

The UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies (GSE&IS) includes two departments - the Department of Education and the Department of Information Studies. Together, the two departments embody the school's commitment to understand and improve educational practice and policy and information systems and policy in a diverse society. GSE&IS’s academic programs bring together faculties and students committed to expanding the range of knowledge in education, information science and associated disciplines. Its professional programs seek to develop librarians, teachers, administrators and information professionals within the enriched context of a research university.

The largest museum and library joint grant program administered by IMLS, National Leadership Grants support projects that will advance the ability of museums and libraries to preserve culture, heritage, and knowledge while enhancing learning. This year’s National Leadership Grant recipients will generate new tools, research, models, services, practices, and alliances that will positively impact both the awarded institution and the nation.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about the Institute, please visit

Friday, January 15, 2010

Musings about IMLS Reviewer's Feedback

Looking through the extensive feedback that our proposal got from the reviewers, it seemed like a good idea to extract some of their suggestions, and respond to them as we move forward into this first phase of the grant. We made some decisions in the kickoff meeting that I think speak to some of the suggestions our reviewers made -- those are noted below. There are also a few suggestions from reviewers that we did not discuss, but which still might be important to consider.

1. "reassess their partners to include a technology partner"

Response: it would seem that we didn't make it clear enough how much a 'technology partner' Robin at Cambridge is. We are planning to hire an Argus consultant/specialist, and I think that between Robin and that person, we'll have plenty of assistance on the technology side.

2. "a pilot phase using a free wiki service that would enable them to step through the process and workflow of how this resource will work when it is delivered. It may be that they do not need to build anything - that they would get 80-90% of the way there with an existing tool"

Response: Again, we may not have framed what we are doing correctly, since I think they misunderstood us. The main thing that we are building is not a tool-to-create-a-catalog (since as far as I know we're using a customized Filemaker Pro interface -- in this case the tool already exists). What we're building, ie. where there is no existing tool, is the tool that will connect the catalogs together and allow them to share information and update as changes are made -- which Robin thinks can be done with Web Hooks. Building a test catalog via a wiki seems (to me at least) like it will a lot of work, without much benefit to building what we hope to build.

3. "I would like to see a much more detailed functional spec of the architecture they are proposing because I don't feel that they have thought this through. I don't doubt they can custom-build the application but it would be better to use existing software and put more focus on process and workflow for the delivered system. I'd rather see something in the proposal that talks about selecting or building a solution based on functional requirements. There is no description of any standards they would use, except XML- it would be helpful to know that they are proposing an interoperable system. I'd like to see the applicants provide a risk assessment, a plan for sustainability and backup/archive."

Response: I think that we're coming closer to figuring out the architecture of what we're proposing -- we did a great job of starting on that during the kickoff meeting. However, I'm not sure I understand the functional requirements part -- in some respects we are still figuring those out. Comments, anyone?

4. "The proposal is close to meeting the needs of the program, however there's no indication of how standard and interoperable this will be and how applicable it would be outside of the defined ethnic group. It would be good to see some addressing of how this might create a model for a broad array of ethnic groups."

Response: I'll leave the standards issue for someone else to comment on (Robin?), but I think that our emphasis on the leadership workshop towards the end of the grant term addresses his/her concern about the applicability of this to other ethnic groups besides the Zuni. Besides showing off what we've done, our goal in hosting a workshop like that is to work out ways to apply what we've done to other situations, and hopefully create other collaborations between other museums and source communities.

5. "Should this grant be awarded, I would like to make the suggestion that some thought is given to even wider applicability of the collaborative catalog idea, possibly making such a framework widely usable/applicable to a broad spectrum of cultural artifacts."

Response: See above. Although I'm not sure what he/she means by a 'broad spectrum' of cultural artifacts.

6. "Sustainability: Extensibility might be the more interesting question here - adding more content, including more repositories, broadening the reach to other tribal communities. I think the first is probably and the latter two more challenging. Again, it's not clear how the application will work with other collections management systems than Argus. And I don't know how broadly applicable the best practices will be."

Response: The fact that several of our partners use the Argus system was a coincidence, but one that we can hopefully take advantage of. And just to clarify, not every content partner uses Argus -- the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has their own custom-built collections management system. I'm hoping that this is where the advantage of using a tool that is as adaptable as WebHooks will be to our advantage.

Also, extensibility is certainly our goal, although I think an important shift is not to develop this into one large repository that covers multiple tribes, but rather to empower other tribes and museums to establish other collaborative catalogs, that are themselves situated in the hands of the tribes (and subject to their own intellectual property protections). I think that this might highlight the differences between our approach, and the approach that many other museum consortiums are taking. Our goal is not to create some massive, aggregated dataset about objects, but rather to think carefully about what collections will be the most interesting to the Zuni people (obviously Zuni objects will be at the top of that list), and develop a system that gives them more control over how knowledge and understanding is established around those objects. Adding more tribes & more museum partners isn't exactly in line with this vision. However, working to develop other collaborative catalogs with other tribal and museum partners is certainly one of our goals in hosting the Leadership Workshop, sometime towards the end of 2011, we hope!

7. "I'm also wondering about the wider applicability of the protocols for working with other communities. There might be a gap between what is appropriate for collaboration with the Zunis and with some other tribe. The applicant might also consider the reception of the protocols for dealing with Native American records that the Society of American Archivists is discussing. The archival community is divided over the implications - it's entirely possible that what results from this project could be met with a variety of questions that the museum profession will want to discuss."

Response: I quite agree! It is critically important for knowledge institutions (like museums, libraries, and archives) to consider the importance of the kind of protocols we are trying to establish within our project. From the beginning, approaching our research in a culturally-appropriate manner has been a key part of for the success of our project. Allowing tribes to control what we believe is their intellectual property reflects a much-needed philosophical shift in creating collaborations with source communities. Perhaps not all museums are as prepared to regard their collections information in this way, but (in my opinion, at least) unless museums start to approach source communities with this kind of willingess to protect traditional knowledge, they will have a much more challenging time building meaningful collaborations with those communities.

(I've written lots more on this issue of intellectual property protocols in our project in this article: Becvar, Katherine M., and Ramesh Srinivasan. 2009. Indigenous knowledge and culturally-responsive methods in information research. Library Quarterly 79(4): 421-442.)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What are Web Hooks?

(And how are they relevant to our project?)

'Web Hooks' are an idea that describes an entire range of small programs/applications that go out and trigger other programs to do something (and that 'something' is defined by the user).

Paypal is an example of this process, specifically their "instant payment notification." When something happens (ie. a customer pays you), Paypal sends a notification to a URL that you have specified (that in turn can connect to your server in charge of inventory and shipping stuff). The Web Hook provides the connection between the event (getting paid) and the output (shipping stuff).

Web Hooks are different than RSS feeds. In theory, RSS feeds work because you say "I'm interested in this" when you subscribe to the feed, and when new stuff is posted, the RSS feed 'feeds' it to you. In reality, RSS feeds work because your computer constantly checks, and checks, and checks. This constant checking is often called 'polling'. This is not "information push", not yet.

But now that feeds are being 'consumed' by applications & servers, not just human users, we need something that works better-- something that doesn't require that constant checking for new and interesting info goodies. Essentially Web Hooks allow different web-based programs to talk to each other and work together.

So how would we use Web Hooks for our project? Ideally, it would work like this-- we would have it set up so that when someone has entered or updated a 'public' entry in the Collaborative Catalog, the Web Hook would grab that update, and push it over to the catalog of the museum where from which that record came. (right Robin?) Sounds easy when you say it fast!

A couple of challenges:

-- Three out of the four content partners use the ARGUS system. We don't yet know for sure that we can set up a Web Hook with ARGUS, since ARGUS doesn't really connect with the Internet very well. Robin hopes that we can make this work using the Web Module of ARGUS. Here's hoping!

-- How will this work with our protocols of sharing? We have to strike a balance between getting people to contribute to the catalogue (ensuring that they feel comfortable doing so), and keeping the necessary protections on certain areas of knowledge. The fact that the process is automated via Web Hooks makes it much, much easier to get Zuni voices in the catalogs of the outside museums, but we have to be careful that we structure it so that non-public knowledge stays put at Zuni. It's a familiar challenge-- making sure the technological structure reflects the cultural needs.

More information on Web Hooks (and some jargon) can be found in this slide presentation by Jeff Lindsay, "Web Hooks and the Programmable World of Tomorrow"; and in the Web Hooks blog.